Maine's conservation community is reeling from the early June announcement that 911,000 acres of key wild areas are to be sold. The Forest Ecology Network is among many, including editorial boards throughout the state, that are calling on political leaders to purchase the land for the people and to protect it from further overcutting and development. The Sappi holdings contain some of the crown jewels of Maine's scenic wonders.
"Suddenly, like a thunderstorm breaking over Maine's western mountains, some of the more biologically valuable timberlands in the largest contiguous forest east of the Mississippi River are on the market .... The stakes are high, and time is short .... Maine will not have this kind of opportunity again soon, if ever .... The moment to act is here and Maine's leaders should step up to it." - Portland Press Herald. June 4, 1998.
"....Maine has an interesting opportunity to acquire some valuable land for public use. [This sale] presents the state with a potential purchase of exactly the sort of land it should be protecting from development .... If Maine can negotiate a fair price for the land, residents could enjoy this beautiful spot for generations to come." - Bangor Daily News. June 8, 1998.
"Maine has an opportunity to gain control over spectacular land. It should do so before another inter-national giant buys the property, subdivides paradise and puts up condos and marinas." - Lewiston Sun Journal. June 5, 1998.
by Dave Publicover
The vast expanse of SAPPI land currently for sale in the Northern Forest contains a number of areas with important ecological, recreational, and scenic features. Here are the various components of SAPPI's land and how they rate in terms of public value.
Moosehead Lake/Kennebec River Shoreline
SAPPI owns about 60 miles of shoreline along Moosehead Lake, 35% of the total shoreline and about half of the undeveloped shoreline on the lake (according to the Moosehead Lake Comprehensive Land Use Plan). This covers much of the eastern shore, including the most critical area around Spencer Bay (designated in the Comprehensive Plan as the primary "wilderness type" area on the lake, with very high value for wildlife habitat, remote recreation and scenic quality). In addition, they own about 24 miles of riverfront along the upper Kennebec River (including the entire western shoreline from Indian Pond to the Forks, the most notable rafting stretch on the river), as well as the area surrounding both the east and west outlets of the lake into the Kennebec River. The importance of maintaining the undeveloped character of this shorefront cannot be overstated.
Roach River Watershed
East of Moosehead Lake SAPPI's land incorporates much of the Roach River watershed. The easternmost extent of SAPPI's land in Maine lies between the publicly owned Nahmakanta parcel to the north (one of the major purchases from the Land for Maine's Future program) and the Katahdin Iron Works parcel to the south (which has been recognized as an area of high value for some time). The southern part of this land abuts the Appalachian Trail and includes the northern slopes of Gulf Hagas and White Cap Mountains. Second, Third and Fourth Roach Ponds are all undeveloped Class 1B lakes (as classified by the Maine Wildlands Lakes Assessment); Third Roach, at 266 acres, is the second largest lake in the state designated as a "remote pond" (Management Class 6).
In addition, the Roach River, which connects these ponds to Spencer Bay on Moosehead Lake, is a Maine Class "C" river, which puts it in the top 12% of river miles in the state. SAPPI owns all the shoreline of the Roach River upstream of First Roach Lake; the shoreline between First Roach and Moosehead is owned by Maine IF&W. Unfortunately, First Roach Lake is among the more heavily developed lakes in the region and has been designated Management Class 3 (most suitable for development) by LURC.
Moose River Area
SAPPI owns significant tracts in the Moose River watershed. Three townships (Appeleton, Bradstreet, and T5 R7 BKP WKR) are of especially high significance. These lands lie just south of the publicly owned Holeb parcel and the Attean Pond area, and encompass an area of exceptional recreational and ecological value. These lands include
extensive wetlands, an old growth red pine stand, and a large area with very limited road access. They are traversed by the Moose River Bow trip, and include one of the highest concentrations of designated remote ponds in the state.
Between Jackman and Moosehead Lake the river, though still of high value (this stretch is class "C"), is more heavily developed. The river passes through two lakes (Long Pond and Brassua Lake) that are high value (Class 1A and 1B respectively) but developed and have been designated "most suitable for development." Several parcels of land in Jackman and Long Pond Township were traded by the state to Scott Paper (previous owner of this land) in return for land in Day's Academy Grant on Moosehead Lake.
SAPPI owns almost all of Flagstaff township and part of Eustis, which include about 20 miles of shoreline (25% of the total lake frontage) on the northern side of the lake. It is the largest privately owned piece of shoreline on this lake, of which 60% is currently under public ownership in the Bigelow Preserve.
SAPPI's lands in Carrabassett Valley and Mt Abram township encompass highly valuable portions of the mountain massif around Sugarloaf Mountain. These include lands surrounding one of the most popular stretches of the AT in Maine, most of Crocker Mountain (with important geological features and natural areas), and portions of Mt. Abraham and Spaulding and Sugarloaf Mountains. Because of their high recreational value and proximity to Sugarloaf ski area, some parts of this tract may be at high risk for development.
Other High Value Lakes
SAPPI owns large portions of the shorelines of three more notable lakes. All are large (1000-2000 acres), undeveloped, Class 1A lakes, and all are designated Management Class 2 ("especially high value, accessible, undeveloped lakes"). They include:
Bald Mountain Pond: SAPPI owns about 75% of the shoreline of this lake, described in "Maine's Finest Lakes" as "a relatively isolated, undeveloped pond with outstanding fisheries, wildlife, scenic and shoreline character resources". The lake provides habitat for the rare blueback trout. The remaining shoreline is publicly owned and the AT passes by the northern shore of this lake.
Spencer Lake: SAPPI owns about 60% of the shoreline of this lake, located in a mountainous region south of the Moose River. This area (Hobbstown township) could be included in a discussion of the Moose River area discussed above. "Maine's Finest Lakes" describes Spencer Lake as having outstanding fisheries, scenic, shoreline character, botanic and cultural resources, including the Spencer Lake old-growth white pine stand.
Pierce Pond: SAPPI owns nearly half of the shoreline of this lake, described as having outstanding fisheries and scenic resources and significant wildlife and shoreline character resources. The AT passes through SAPPI land from the southern end of the lake south to East Carry Pond. This land is currently being protected through a conservation easement.
The Appalachian Trail Corridor
While most of the AT corridor is publicly owned, the lands surrounding the narrow corridor are important in maintaining the quality of the experience along the trail. The AT corridor passes through SAPPI land in five different places - Mt Abraham/Sugarloaf area, East Carry Pond to Pierce Pond, just east of Pleasant Pond to Bald Mountain Pond (including the southern tip of Moxie Pond), a very short stretch in Elliotsville, and the Katahdin Iron Works area (Gulf Hagas Mtn to White Cap Mtn). Most of these areas have been mentioned above.
Other Components of SAPPI ownership
The remaining portion of SAPPI's land consists of forest land of varying sizes. The largest part lies west of Moosehead Lake and the Kennebec River, including most of the lower Moose River watershed downstream from Jackman; the second-largest block lies east of the Kennebec River in the Wyman Lake area. Though not listed above, this forest land is obviously important toward maintaining the character and integrity of the Northern Forest.
The potential for the type of ownership fragmentation that occurred with the Diamond lands is obviously a concern, especially given the fact that SAPPI owns some areas with very high development value.
The importance one puts on these lands depends on the scale at which one looks at them. At the finer scale there may be individual features of high value on these lands; SAPPI is the primary shoreline owner on 28 Class 1A or 1B lakes and 17 remote ponds, only some of which have been described above. They also own portions of four large lakes (First Roach Pond, Long Pond, Indian Pond and Brassua Lake) that have been designated "most suitable for development."
At a larger scale some of these lands, primarily those around Moosehead Lake, are included in various "big wilderness" proposals that have been presented recently (such as the Maine Woods National Park from RESTORE: The North Woods, or the Thoreau Regional Wilderness Reserve from The Northern Forest Forum). Much of this land has been heavily cut over; SAPPI was the purveyor of the township-sized clearcuts in Brassua and West Middlesex Canal Grant/Big W townships.
Dave Publicover is a forest ecology researcher for the Appalachain Mountain Club. For more information visit http://www.outdoors.org.